Many who witnessed Nipsey Hussle perform at the sixth-annual Broccoli City Festival in Washington, D.C. in April will remember the Los Angeles rapper using the now-infamous photo of Kanye West donning a Make America Great Again hat as a background image during his performance of he and YG’s “FDT (F— Donald Trump).” It’s become the event’s enduring viral moment, but wasn’t the most important message Hussle communicated.
That would be the power of black entrepreneurship, which is the resonant theme of his long-awaited debut album, Victory Lap.
Victory Lap, released through a partnership between Hussle’s All Money In No Money Out and Atlantic Records, is rich with talk of black financial empowerment. Songs such as “Hussle & Motivate,” where Hussle raps, “That’s why they follow me, huh?/Cause they think I know the way/Cause I took control of things, ballin’ the solo way,” promote self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, Hussle, who traded gang culture for ambitious business models, positions himself as a template for controlling your destiny.
Was Hussle the main event at a festival headlined by Migos that also featured Cardi B’s final live performance before giving birth? No, but his ethos, with specific regard to black entrepreneurship, aligns with Broccoli City’s.
Nipsey Hussle points to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when extolling the importance of black entrepreneurship. Our physiological needs are at the base of the pyramid, and we must address each succeeding level’s needs as we move upward in pursuit of self-actualization. The black community’s barrier to this promised land is financial power.
“When you talk about black entrepreneurship, you’re talking about addressing the foundation of what’s going on with our people when we don’t have any financial power,” he tells Billboard. “Our basic needs aren’t being met in a lot of cases, so there’s no way we’re going to be able to tap into our potential until we address those bottom-level base needs.”
Furthermore, Hussle believes many young black people grasp the importance of empowering their ideas. “We don’t want to wait on someone to hire us and give us a check, we want to create our own opportunities,” he says. However, this requires a financial sword to swing. Hussle’s aim is to encourage others to acquire and sharpen that sword, an attitude that endeared him to Broccoli City co-founder Brandon McEachern.
“I’m a fan of his thought process,” McEachern writes in an email. “We [had him on] a panel years ago, and I like his spirit and what he represents for our community. He’s self made, and we love that!”
Like Hussle, Broccoli City’s origins can be traced backed to Los Angeles. In 2007, McEachern and fellow co-founder Marcus Allen started an organic streetwear company of the same name–a nickname for their hometown of Greensboro, N.C. But after McEachern noticed the scarcity of healthy food options in Los Angeles’ low-income neighborhoods, and after both received a primer on Earth Day, he suggested they reinvent the brand as something bigger: a way to teach underserved communities about the importance of healthy living and sustainability.
McEachern describes entrepreneurship as a cornerstone of the black community, saying his epiphany was inspired by the examples he saw growing up, from barbershops to restaurants. “I think we’re always hustling and taking what the world gives us and adding our twist to make it better. Turning lemons to lemonade,” he writes. “But what we have to do is learn how to sell our own lemonade.”
Following a 2010 Earth Day event in Los Angeles called the Global Coolin’ Block Party (which featured an unheralded Kendrick Lamar), Broccoli City established the D.C.-based music festival in 2013. The wage gap separating white and black families in the nation’s capital restricts the latter’s access to healthy food options and information about sustainability in low-income areas, and the festival seeks to bring awareness to that issue. Music is used as the conduit to spread Broccoli City’s message to the largest possible audience — another parallel between the organization and Hussle that made him an ideal performer for this year’s festival.
“I realized the power of hip-hop,” Hussle explains. “I realized how influential this music and this culture are.”
Some people receive encouragement and advice about entrepreneurship from their families, but everyone isn’t as fortunate. Nipsey Hussle sees himself as an example for those who may not have had them growing up. Knowledge is an asset, and as someone who acquired financial resources through music, he feels an each-one-teach-one duty of care to pay it forward via the same medium.
“I’d like to be one of those voices kids can look back and say, ‘Nip was giving me the game,’” he says. “‘Nip was telling me how to be self-sufficient. A real leader.’ And I’ll be proud of that.’”
Maxims about bootstrapping your way to success are hurdled across every social media platform on a daily basis. These hollow words of motivation ignore the reality that everyone does not have access to the same resources — especially not in the black community, where families earn just $57.30 for every $100 in income and hold a mere $5.04 in family wealth for every $100 compared to their white counterparts, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Hussle believes the lack of access fuels apathy, but wants to affect change by offering guidance.
“If you’re first generation wealth, it’s not going to be easy,” he says. “You’re going to make big sacrifices and need an understanding of what it’s going to take, or else you’re going to think it’s too much. But if someone tells you ahead of time, ‘Bro it’s gonna feel like it’s gonna kill you,’ that’s the sacrifice it takes to set the next generation up. So when you go through the motions, you’ll know you’re paying your toll and I don’t think it’ll be as confusing.” And that’s the message heard throughout Victory Lap.
Broccoli City Festival’s lineup was announced in January, one month before Victory Lap’s release. Hussle’s strategy was to avoid one-off dates aside from festivals prior to touring the album, so Broccoli City Festival made sense — especially considering the warm reception he says he’s always received in D.C.
But once McEachern heard Victory Lap, Hussle’s place on the bill and connection to Broccoli City’s message felt like kismet. “It’s about controlling your own narrative,” he writes. “As African Americans, we have to do a better job of telling our own stories. Nipsey does this very well, and he also shares knowledge which, in the black community, we don’t do well. We like to keep secrets and withhold connections sometimes. That’s wack to me.”
“How do we empower ourselves, sustainably, for the long term?” Hussle asks. “I had to bump my head to figure that out. Good thing the Internet came along and we got YouTube and other avenues to tap into this information, because that was a big part of me getting an understanding, too. So I feel like I damn near owe it to the game to be vocal and not horde the info.”
The critical state of black health is vital information that Nipsey Hussle and Broccoli City agree needs to be shared. Although a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the African-American death rate declined by 25% between 1999 and 2015, it also found that younger blacks were living with and dying of diseases commonly found in older whites. These disparities are the result of economic and social issues more likely to plague the black community, such as lack of access to healthcare due to financial reasons. Hence why Hussle believes health and wealth are of equal importance.
“As great of a financial challenge as we face, we also face challenges with respect to health,” he says. “I was drinking lean, drinking soda all day, sugar, caffeine and I wasn’t being conscious of my health. I had to check myself and once I started doing the research, I realized they don’t put as much emphasis on [how dangerous] food can be compared to drugs, but this shit is just as bad. So I started correcting myself and saw a big difference. I just felt and looked a lot better overall once I started being conscious of what I put in my body.”
Nipsey Hussle and Broccoli City seek to impact lives by meeting their target audience at its level. But they aren’t simply concerned with survival, they’re focused on showing the black community how to prosper. In their eyes, the key to prosperity is acknowledging that health and wealth go hand in hand.